Artwork: Various sources
Soundtrack: Never finalized
First Release: June 21, 2007
Latest Release: November 9, 2007
Free Empires (informally known as FE) was a Piga Software project to make a free software clone/spiritual successor to the Ensemble Studios real-time strategy games series Age of Empires (modelled most after Age of Empires II: The Conquerors and the first two games' underlying Genie Engine). It was intended to run on GNU/Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, being written in Gambas. The series would chronicle the rise and fall of human empires and civilizations as they advance through history. The idea has since been abandoned, with plans instead for a new historical real-time strategy game with unique gameplay only broadly inspired by Age of Empires encompassing the whole of human history.
The idea for making an Age of Empires-like game came soon after the Piga Software developers first played Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings over the summer of 2005. The original idea was to make a Age of Kings-like game called "Age of Kingdoms" but that idea was later abandoned; partially due to finding a small commercial game already using that name. Development on Free Empires was started soon after as a series of prototypes in Game Maker 6.1, some based on edits of established Game Maker bases and sometimes on attempted self-built engines. Initially the game contained stock graphics ripped from Age of Empires but work began in early 2007 to replace these with original and/or free content substitutes to make the game more fully free. When Piga switched to GNU/Linux and Gambas in April 2007, the Game Maker version was abandoned.
Development on the GNU/Linux version was started in April of 2007, and soon after webmaster Graham L. Wilson created the first draft of the Free Empires website. Later when a discussion about running Age of Empires on GNU/Linux through Wine cropped up on the Linux Questions forums (which at the time was temperamental), Hamish Wilson announced the project. This brought a lot of initial interest onto the newly finalized Piga Software Forum on Forumer, with many complimenting FE as a good idea and offering their services. This community activity subsequently died down, but this is mostly due to a lack of released content to talk about as whilst engine development continues and work on Free Empires proper is on hold. Since the project began, numerous development screenshots have been released, including one from the very first night of development.
Due to popular demand, Free Empires released its first Source Release on June 21, 2007, and another was supposed to be released on October 26, 2007, the tenth anniversary of the release of the original Age of Empires. However, because of technical difficulties, it was not released until November 9, 2007. These two Source Releases were primarily focused on setting up and exploring a variety of different game features, rather than laying down the basics for gameplay itself. A Microsoft Windows version began development on July 6, 2007, lead by Iain Wilson, but this effort was later stalled. The Windows version of Free Empires was being developed using Visual Basic 2005 Express on a laptop running Windows XP Home, Service Pack 2. On March 24, 2008, a representative from the Extreme Tux Racer project named Christian Picon (cpicon92) came to the forum and announced that he wanted to make Extreme Tux Racer and Free Empires partner projects, just like that project had been doing with other free software gaming projects. Around this time work, on a hobby QBasic spin-off game called Age of War began.
A technical demo for Gambas Genie showcasing mouse-based unit movement was released on July 15, 2008, after assistance from Christian Picon helped fine tune the needed formula. For many months all that was released about the development of FE was vague statements on the Piga Software Forum. However, in early August 2008 news a notable experimental technological advancement was released, as well as a new development shot showing an alignment of Villagers in the form of "FE! Piga" (not a game play feat but a drawing one). A later development shot showcased texturing (building on from the older drawing experiments). Two other tech demos were being created showing resource management and another technological research. A third was started in December 2008 to try and create basic attack controls and enemy artificial intelligence.
All of these were being created to build up features to be merged on top of the new object rendering and texture system in SR 3.0. Graham Wilson later announced that he had stopped working on the tech demos, and was working on a "tech demo to rule them all", which was aimed at creating something half playable, using inelegant tricks for the moment if necessary (object rendering for example) in order to work around the gaps in his present knowledge. The first source release for this project, Lamp Refugee was completed October 26, 2009.
A second source release was completed and sent off on May 8, 2011, with better drawing, modualized code and more complete game functions. A new technical demo demonstrating a terrain model was released on October 26, 2011, and a another demo demonstrating isometric projection was released on August 7, 2013. Work on a third release of Lamp Refugee is already planned, incorporating many new techniques Graham has learned in the last three years, to be developed after completion of the first incarnation of PS Tech.
After a few more incarnations of Lamp Refugee, work on Chiefs and Warriors might begin again; with the others in the series all to be built atop the same "common engine", with community development in the manner of Battle for Wesnoth being hoped for. On January 28, 2011 the Free Empires website moved from its old host to become a subsection of the new Piga Software site on icculus.org, and on March 11 the project was given a new higher detail and more properly free content logo. Graham Wilson also released statement on the forum noting where the project stood five years on. The official release date for any final release is "When It's Done."
Free Empires was planned to play much like the original Age of Empires games, as the player would lead a tribe of people and order them to construct, gather, attack or defend. Villagers function as domestic units and can construct or repair buildings, engage in agriculture and gather resources, and traders can be trained to conduct commerce between civilizations. A variety of military units, including melee, ranged, and cavalry, would be used to attack or defend from enemy civilizations. A third class of units would include priests, scientists, medics and diplomats throughout the ages that would be able to impart knowledge, heal the sick or win over hearts and minds. Siege engines would be able to be used to destroy buildings and fortifications, and docks would be built allowing the construction of fishing, trading and war ships. The final game set would allow the creation of airbases and the creation of aerial units, including war-planes and missiles. Buildings would range from Houses, Barracks, Archery Ranges, Stables, Docks, and more. Walls and trenches would be available to be constructed for defensive purposes.
Alliances would also be able to exist between civilizations and thus allow trade and diplomacy. Civilizations would win either through conquest or other set objectives such as building a Wonder of the World, reaching a certain "civ score", or gathering relics or artefacts. The game formula would largely mimic that of Age of Empires, but subtle differences would probably still have existed, with more glaring changes inteded to be toggled on on off in the menu for the sake of series purists ("Classic" an "Modern" modes). The main design of the game was meant to most reflect the gameplay of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors per developer and audience demand. The game was intended to be a purely two-dimensional game to retain the simplicity and elegance of the first two Age of Empires games, and as such would feature an isometric grid and terrain such as hills, cliffs, pits and the like. Similar to the first two Age of Empires games, Free Empires would feature animated sprites built up from pre-rendered three-dimensional models, as was already demonstrated in Lamp Refugee (however, with higher poly-counts and in 32-bit colours and resolutions).
Differences from Age of Empires
- The inclusion of Sub-Saharan, Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations from the beginning, rather then just European, Mediterranean and Asiatic.
- "Unit types" as well as "building types" for civilizations allowing their units to have different ethnicity and clothing.
- The ability to re-train units into other types, at a higher cost but at a faster pace - to alleviate population limit restrictions.
- Nomadic civilizations will be able to pack up and move their buildings like AoK trebuchets, for yurts, tipis, etc.
- Within certain guidelines, military units can construct some military fortifications.
- The ability to for civilizations to terrain shape to build trenches or hills.
- A system of diplomacy more like Sid Meier's Civilization II, allowing more fluid alliances, wars and neutralities.
- Modes for "stand-alone" or "dependant", allowing more realistic set-ups for military campaigns or colony settings with external backup and resource transfers.
- A scout mode where units explore on their own, but with path-finding formulas to prevent them from walking directly into an enemy encampment.
- More options for agriculture, including the ability to salt or trample enemy crops, or fertilization which increases productivity based on the amount of stables.
- The ability to inherit enemy buildings if the town centre is converted and the enemy has no more military units.
- Livestock animals may be fattened up to increase their food value; as well as a greater amount and variety of livestock available.
- Units will slowly heal from injuries, however they will also age after a certain period of time.
- Ecology simulations that allow for the regrowth of forests and bushes, as well as the reproduction of animals and humans
The game would take the form of a unified and modular game engine, Gambas Genie, with which each period incarnation, covering the prehistoric to the modern, added as a rule, unit, building and artwork set, with some basic common features shared between each. Contributors would be able to modify or release their own sets, as well as custom campaigns, which Piga hopeed to mainline in a manner similar to the Battle for Wesnoth project. This was hoped to allow for the creation of the complete series with less expenditure of individual time and resources than would be required as a purely in-house effort.
Games in Series
There were four games planned for the Free Empires project. Each game was to be set in a different period of human history.
- Free Empires: Chiefs & Warriors (The Pleistocene)
- Free Empires: Philosophers & Barbarians (The Ancient World: 6000 BCE - 1000 CE)
From the dawn of farming to the era of world wide decline between 500 CE and 1000 CE.
- Free Empires: Kings & Tyrants (The Middle Ages: 600 CE - 1500 CE)
The world slowly advances and recovers from the age of decline, the modern state of Europe and Asia emerges.
- Free Empires: Renaissance & Discovery (The Age of Discovery: 1500 CE - 1800 CE)
Having surpassed the Ancients the European powers explore and conquer new worlds, hacking their way through the locals.
- Free Empires: Empires & Superpowers (The Industrial Revolution: 1800 CE - 2000 CE)
This game is mostly to focus on the major super powers of the modern age: Britain, Germany, France, America and the Soviet Union. It will also discuss their smaller allies (Italy, Japan, the Commonwealth of Nations, China, India, etc), and involve themes of small nations trying to maintain their sovereignty in the modern age.
Free Empires: Age of War
An in-development spin off game, Free Empires: Age of War, was also in the works as a hobbyist project since April 2008, aimed primarily for FreeDOS (compatible with MSDOS and DOSBox). Using ASCII graphics, number manipulation and probability, the player lead their tribe against its bitter enemy while building up your capital, with technology roughly spanning from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age (though the encyclopaedia documented history beyond this). The "Age" in its title is a reference to the Age of Empires series, from whence it derives much of its design. It also shared ideas with Piga Nation, in the form of much of the basic premise behind the Gambas Statistics Engine.